National Grid, union reach tentative agreement to end lockout
National Grid and the United Steelworkers reached a tentative agreement to end a six-month lockout of 1,250 union workers, the utility and the union announced late Wednesday night.
Details won’t be released until the members of Locals 12003 and 12012 vote to ratify the agreement on or before Monday.
“We have worked very hard over the last six months to reach this tentative agreement and we hope to share the details with our members on Monday,” said John Buonopane, president of Local 12012, which represents about a third of the locked-out employees, who work in gas operations and support positions across eastern Massachusetts.
The agreement followed the resumption of negotiations on Wednesday. The utility on Friday had presented a revised offer to the union after several days of what both sides called “lengthy, productive bargaining sessions.”
The company and the union had expressed optimism that an agreement was in sight but blew past a goal to end the standoff before Christmas, and then another before the end of the year.
On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation that would extend unemployment insurance benefits for the locked-out workers if an agreement was not reached. Their benefits were set to expire in mid-January, and the legislation would extend those payments for up to another 26 weeks.
A separate bill that would require National Grid to provide health insurance to the locked-out workers and deprive the utility of rate increases and public funds was the subject of an emotional public hearing in early December.
State legislators have also sent letters to the Department of Public Utilities voicing concerns about gas safety and urging fines for safety violations the locked-out workers said they have observed at job sites. A moratorium on nearly all National Grid work was issued by the DPU in October after a surge in natural gas pressure in Woburn, although it was lifted in late December.
Developers facing a potential yearlong backlog in getting gas hookups due to the lockout have been growing increasingly concerned about completing their projects and getting them on the market. The locked-out workers serve 700,000 gas customers in 85 communities in the state.
The lockout began after the contract expired at midnight on June 24, following months of contentious negotiations. National Grid refused to let employees in the next day, even though the union had offered to keep working under the old contract.
The main sticking points: the company’s proposal to offer a base health care plan with deductibles and coinsurance and replace pensions with a 401(k)-type plan for new hires, both of which have been agreed to by nearly every other National Grid union.
On July 1, the company halted the workers’ health insurance, and entire families lost their coverage, leaving some in precarious positions. The union have helped many members with health care coverage and other bills during the lockout.
Union members have picketed throughout the lockout, harassing replacement workers at job sites and reporting alleged infractions to the DPU. It is a fight that to some seems unwinnable — two union locals in Massachusetts taking on a multibillion-dollar British corporation — all to hold on to benefits that most workers no longer have.